FTDI Screws Up, Backs Down

ftdi-explosion

A few days ago we learned chip maker FTDI was doing some rather shady things with a new driver released on Windows Update. The new driver worked perfectly for real FTDI chips, but for counterfeit chips – and there are a lot of them – the USB PID was set to 0, rendering them inoperable with any computer. Now, a few days later, we know exactly what happened, and FTDI is backing down; the driver has been removed from Windows Update, and an updated driver will be released next week. A PC won’t be able to communicate with a counterfeit chip with the new driver, but at least it won’t soft-brick the chip.

Microsoft has since released a statement and rolled back two versions of the FTDI driver to prevent counterfeit chips from being bricked. The affected versions of the FTDI driver are 2.11.0 and 2.12.0, released on August 26, 2014. The latest version of the driver that does not have this chip bricking functionality is 2.10.0.0, released on January 27th. If you’re affected by the latest driver, rolling back the driver through the Device Manager to 2.10.0.0 will prevent counterfeit chips from being bricked. You might want to find a copy of the 2.10.0 driver; this will likely be the last version of the FTDI driver to work with counterfeit chips.

Thanks to the efforts of [marcan] over on the EEVblog forums, we know exactly how the earlier FTDI driver worked to brick counterfeit devices:

ftdi_evil

[marcan] disassembled the FTDI driver and found the source of the brick and some clever coding. The coding exploits  differences found in the silicon of counterfeit chips compared to the legit ones. In the small snippet of code decompiled by [marcan], the FTDI driver does nothing for legit chips, but writes 0 and value to make the EEPROM checksum match to counterfeit chips. It’s an extremely clever bit of code, but also clear evidence FTDI is intentionally bricking counterfeit devices.

A new FTDI driver, presumably one that will tell you a chip is fake without bricking it, will be released next week. While not an ideal outcome for everyone, at least the problem of drivers intentionally bricking devices is behind us.

Building A Magnetic Levitating Quadcopter

hover Three days ago on October 21, 2014 it was announced to the world the Back to the Future hoverboard was real. It’s a Kickstarter, of course, and it’s trending towards a $5 Million dollar payday for the creator.  Surprisingly for a project with this much marketing genius, it’s a real, existing device and there’s even a patent. From the patent, we’re able to glean a few details of how this hoverboard/magnetic levitation device works, and in our post on the initial coverage, we said we’d be giving away some goodies to the first person who can clone this magnetic levitation device and put it up on hackaday.io.

[jellmeister] just won the prize. It’s somewhat cheating, as he’s had his prototype hoverboard working in July, and demoed a more advanced ‘upside-down quadcopter’ device at the Brighton Mini Maker Faire in September. Good on ‘ya [jelly]. You’re getting a gift card for the hackaday store.

hoverLike the Kickstarter hoverboard, [jelly] is using an array of magnets rotating in a frame above a non-ferrous metal. For the initial test, eight neodymium magnets were arranged in a frame, suspended over 3/4″ aluminum plate, and spun up with a drill. With just this simple test, [jelly] was able to achieve 2kg of lift at 1cm and 1kg of lift at 1 inch of separation. This test also provided some valuable insight on what the magnets do to the aluminum or copper; the 3kg aluminum plate was nearly spinning, meaning if this device were to be used on small plates, counter-rotating pairs of magnetic lifters would need to be used.

The test rig then advanced to two pairs of rotors with standard hobby brushless motors, but stability was a problem; the magnetic rotors provided enough lift, but it would quickly fall over. To solve this problem, [jellmeister] took a standard quadcopter configuration, replaced the props with magnetic rotors, and successfully hovered it above a sheet of aluminum at the Brighton Maker Faire.

Since [jellmeister] has actually built one of these magnetically levitating hoverboards, he has a lot more data about how they work than an embargoed press release. The magnetic rotor hoverboard will work on aluminum as well as copper, but [jell] suspects the Kickstarter hoverboard may be operating right at the edge of its performance, necessitating the more efficient copper half pipe. The thickness of the non-ferrous plate also makes a difference, with better performance found using thicker plates. No, you bojo, hoverboards don’t work on salt water, even if you have pow-ah.

So there ‘ya go. That’s how you build a freakin’ hoverboard. [jellmeister]‘s design is a little crude and using a Halbach array for the magnetic rotors should improve efficiency. Using a 3D printed rotor design is a stroke of genius, and we’ll expect a few more quad-magnetic-levitating-things to hit the tip line in short order.

Demos of [jellmeister]‘s work below.

Oh. These things need a name. I humbly submit the term ‘Bojo’ to refer to any device that levitates though rotating magnets and eddy currents.

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HuddleLamp turns Multiple Tablets into Single Desktop

huddlelamp

Imagine you’ve got a bunch of people sitting around a table with their various mobile display devices, and you want these devices to act together. Maybe you’d like them to be peepholes into a single larger display, revealing different sections of the display as you move them around the table. Or maybe you want to be able to drag and drop across these devices with finger gestures. HuddleLamp lets you do all this.

How does it work? Basically, a 3D camera sits above the tabletop, and watches for your mobile displays and your hands. Through the magic of machine vision, a server sends the right images to each screen in the group. (The “lamp” in HuddleLamp is a table lamp arranged above the space with a 3D camera built into it.)

A really nice touch is that the authors also provide JavaScript objects that you can embed into web apps to enable devices to join the group without downloading special software. A new device will flash an identifying pattern that the computer vision routine will recognize. Once that’s done, the server starts sending the correct parts of the overall display to the new device.

The video, below the break, demonstrates the possible interactions.

[Read more...]

A Complete C64 System, Emulated on an STM32

c64

The Commodore 64 is the worlds bestselling computer, and we’re pretty sure most programmers and engineers above a certain age owe at least some of their career to this brown/beige keyboard that’s also a computer. These engineers are all grown up now, and it’s about time for a few remakes. [Jeri Ellisworth] owes her success to her version, there are innumerable pieces of the C64 circuit floating around for various microcontrollers, and now [Mathias] has emulated everything (except the SID, that’s still black magic) in a single ARM microcontroller.

On the project page, [Mathais] goes over the capabilities of his board. It uses the STM32F4, overclocked to 235 MHz. There’s a display controller for a 7″ 800×480 TFT, and 4GB of memory for a library of C64 games. Without the display, the entire project is just a bit bigger than a business card. With the display, it’s effectively a C64 tablet, keyboard not included.

This is a direct emulation of the C64, down to individual opcodes in the 6510 CPU of the original. Everything in the original system is emulated, from the VIC, CIAs and VIAs, serial ports, and even the CPU of the 1541 disk drive. The only thing not emulated is the SID chip. That cherished chip sits on a ZIF socket for the amazement of onlookers.

You can check out some images of the build here, or the video demo below.

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Build a Better Something During the Deconstruction 2014

deconstruction

Couldn’t make it to Detroit for the Red Bull Creation Contest? Its founder, [Jason Naumoff], has a separate event called The Deconstruction and 2014 marks the second year of this lively, worldwide competition.

The Deconstruction is taking place November 14-16th and will be broadcast live online. That’s right, you can participate from anywhere in the world, and your team’s progress will be live streamed from The Omni Commons in Oakland, CA. Registration began October 16th and the friendly competition is absolutely free to enter.

Creativity is the name of this game. The idea is to build something awesome using what you already have access to, including teamwork skills. Ideally, what you build will be a deconstruction of something you’d like to see rethought, though there is no stated topic. There are no age limits, no boundaries, and very few rules. A number of great things came out of last year’s event, more of which you can check out at their site. What are you waiting for? Go show the world how you’d make it better.

Another Internet of Things Board (But This One Has Lisp))

lisp

Using routers as dev boards has been a long and cherished tradition in the circles we frequent, and finally design houses in China are taking notice. There have been a few ‘Internet of Things’ boards in recent months that have taken the SoC found in low-end routers, packaged the on a board with USB, some GPIOs, and a fair bit of memory and called it a dev board. The ZERO Plus is not an exception to this trend, but it does include a very interesting feature when it comes to the development environment: this one uses Lisp as its native language.

The Zero Plus is pretty much what you would expect from a router SoC being transplanted to an Internet of Things board: it uses the Ralink RT5350 SoC, giving it 802.11b/g/n, has 32MB of RAM, 8 or 16 M of Flash, I2C, I2S, SPI, USB, two UARTs, and 14 GPIOs. There is support for a webcam, temperature and humidity sensor, displays, and Arduino via a breakout board that appears to contain a standard, DIP-sized ATMega328,

All of that could be found in dozens of other boards, though. What really sets this one apart is the Lisp development environment. Programming the Zero is exactly as elegant as you would expect, with a ‘toggle a LED according to what time it is’ program looking something like this:

(define LED_On (lambda ()(dev.gpio 11 “out” 1)))
(define LED_Off (lambda ()(dev.gpio 11 “out” 0)))
(define CurrentTime? (lambda ()
      (int (time.strftime “%H” (time.localtime (time.time))))))
(define Night?
      (lambda ()
            (and
                  (> ( CurrentTime? ) 16) (< ( CurrentTime? ) 23)
            )
      )
)
(if (Night?) (LED_On) (LED_Off)

Dev boards built around somewhat more esoteric programming language isn’t anything new; The Espruino brings Javascript to ARM microcontrollers, and the MicroPython project is an astonishing undertaking and successful Kickstarter that brings the BASIC for the 21st century to the embedded world. Lisp, though… I don’t think anyone expected that. It’s a great way to differentiate your product, though.

I Love the Smell of Rocket Candy in the Morning

diy-rocket

[Grant Thompson aka "The King of Random"] has created a great tutorial on making sugar rocket motors. [Grant] is using a fuel based on potassium nitrate and sugar. Known as Rocket Candy or R-Candy in the amateur rocket community, various forms of this mixture have been used for decades. In fact, this is similar to one of the mixtures [Homer Hickam] and friends used to build rockets in his novel Rocket Boys.

[Grant] bought a cheap blender from the thrift store, which he used to grind his ingredients. You probably won’t want to use this blender for food after it’s been full of KNO3-based stump remover. The blender made quick work of grinding down the KNO3 to a fine powder. [Grant] then added in powdered sugar and carefully mixed the two by shaking, not by running the blender.

A 5″ length of schedule 40 PVC pipe made the rocket motor casing. The rocket motor’s end caps are made from ground clay cat litter. [Grant] rams the layers with a wooden dowel and hammer. First a top cap of clay, then the rocket fuel, then a bottom cap also of clay. With all the layers in place, he hand drilled a hole through the bottom cap and the entire fuel layer. Drilling all the way through turns the motor into a core burning rocket. The entire fuel cylinder burns away from the inside out, with more surface area than burning the end alone.

[Grant] tested his rocket motor at a remote location. We probably would have gone with an electric igniter rather than a fireworks style fuse, but the end result is the same. The rocket motor performed admirably, blasting up to over 2000 feet in altitude.

It goes without saying that working with solid rocket fuel isn’t something to be taken lightly. Something as simple as an air gap in the fuel could lead to a CATO, turning this rocket motor into a pipe bomb. We echo [Grant's] suggestion to search for local amateur rocket clubs before trying this one at home.

[Read more...]

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